Behind The Shot is a recurring feature where we dig deeper and find the backstories that accompany amazing photos. Do you have an awesome photo or know of one that we might want to feature? Send us an email!
Photographer/Filmer/Editor: Matthew Malkiewicz
Settings: ISO 400, 1/100 second, F4.0, manual mode, auto white balance, RAW image format.
Backstory: This photo was captured at a chartered rail-fan/photographer 3-day excursion, during the off-season of a tourist railroad. It was a heavily overcast dark and misty winter morning. I was able to shoot this photo during the first run-by of the day. These are the times when my best photos come – less than ideal and comfortable conditions to be outdoors. The train dropped off the group of 40 photographers at the photo line location, then backed out of view, paused for the air to clear, and roared forward. Silence is broken; vapor from boiled water, pressurized and released at regulated intervals, moves machined steel parts to create the sound of distant thunder as it echoes to the ground.
My camera was mounted on a monopod, the height of the lens at waist level. I wanted the lower vantage point to capture the headlight glint off the shiny railheads, and with the 200mm focal length compress and exaggerate the irregularity of the track. I chose the head-on shot, felt it was a much more dramatic composition as opposed to an angled side view. I’ve learned not to use any type of filters in front of the lens, in such situations would just cause unwanted lens flare when aimed directly into the headlight.
I did very minimal work in Photoshop after the photo was captured. I spent maybe 20 minutes at the most. The setting of white and black points, exposure, contrast, saturation, clarity, and vibrance were all adjusted in Camera RAW. I’m not one to make major modifications to what the camera captured – in Photoshop as a TIFF file only some dodging of the locomotive under the headlight to bring out detail, and burning of the steam/smoke plume to accentuate the layers of texture and pattern. A faint dark vignette was added to the frame’s perimeter.
I had thoughts of cloning out the tree branches in the upper right corner, but felt they added depth. By design, I like the classic leading lines of the rails towards the train, and outwards more parallel lines where gravel and vegetation meet. The inverted triangle of the smoke pointing downwards further forces attention to the oncoming train. Almost a symmetrical frame, but not quite. For those who have not participated in a close encounter such as this, it’s quite the experience. The sound is deafening, the smell of smoke, coal, steam, and hot oil in the air. The ground shakes – all senses are acutely aware. Sometimes the camera stays in the bag, to be a spectator and watch it all with the naked eye.
Some see an outtake from Harry Potter, others a gothic Nightmare Before Christmas scene. I have titled this photograph “Madness”, a terrifying sight from which you recoil in dismay. Reason is gone, this is madness under control as the fire breathing beast approaches.
Check out more of Matthew’s work on his website.
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